A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit From the Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan

Gail Reid (07/18/11): have to agree with the author, Jennifer Egan, who said that one of the shortcomings of this book may be the difficulty in describing it. Suffice it to say that we have a host of characters-- many of whom interrelate - in a novel of linked stories, spanning a 50-year period.

The book is about time (the goon) and the aging process. Music, as a metaphor for time, plays prominently in the novel. Two major characters work in the music business; others write about it and still others are deeply influenced by it. Digital technology fills the future chapters: new forms of communicating through hand sets; Power Point presentations called "slide journals" and social media in a new and negative way predominate in Egan's dystopian view of the future.

How the author weaves these characters together is a marvel. The book may confuse you by the large number of characters and the non-linear structure of the chapters but you will respect its accomplishments. In April, A Visit From the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Rating: ***

Patti's Pages: This is not exactly a book to savor, but the first-, second-, and third-person narrators, skipping forward and backward in time, make this book something of a marvel, something to admire. I have to say that the first chapter was a turnoff, though. Sasha is a remorseless kleptomaniac who pilfers pieces of other people's lives, perhaps attempting to assemble one of her own. She works as an assistant to Bennie, a record producer, whose story we hear next. From there, we move on to Rhea, who was in Bennie's garage punk band, and then to Lou, Bennie's mentor, who takes some hangers-on and his children on a disastrous African safari. Then we meet Scotty, another bandmate of Bennie's, who delivers him a dead fish as a gift, and I'm on board. It's a daisy chain in which the link (not to be confused with the character Linc!) that carries forward to the next chapter is always a surprise, right down to the 75-page Powerpoint presentation, which is itself a daisy chain of arrows, flowcharts, pyramids, equations, and bullet points. As has-been rocker Bosco says, "Time is a goon," and we can't predict who is going to come out ahead and who is going to be sapped by the goon. I just read Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, which, as you might guess, also focuses on time, and I'd be interested to know if Egan has some interest or experience in physics. In fact, in Goon Squad, Jules Jones, a former celebrity reporter in jail, footnotes the account of his ill-fated interview with a starlet with comments about particle entanglement, a spooky property of photons that seems to parallel the manner in which the characters go their separate ways and then accordion back together or form a closed loop to one another. Last but not least, there's a child's obsession with the pauses in music that make you think the song is over when it's really not. Perhaps these pauses are a metaphor for the spans of time in these characters' lives in which they seem to have lost their way and then manage to scramble back for at least one more stanza.

Here's my daisy chain. The title of this book makes me think of the TV show The Mod Squad. It had a character named Linc, and so does this book. The TV show also starred Peggy Lipton, who lived for a time with record producer Lou Adler. This book has a record producer named Lou. Go figure.
Rating: ****

Anne Ferber: Oh my goodness, where to begin. Upon completing this funny, remarkable novel, I feel like I've just witnessed one of those digital photos that breaks apart into a million pixels and then, miraculously begins to reassemble itself into something quite astonishing. For those who never want to grow old, Time, the Goon Squad, is forever lurking and reminding.

First there is the story of the punk/rock generation somewhere in the 80s and later, the Clinton years-- whose idea of music is to close the garage door and scream and play louder and angrier than is humanly possible. What were those kids really like? Have you ever wondered? Ms. Egan seems to know. Their powers of adolescent self destruction and self expression make a reasonable amount of sense in this telling. Each chapter is a stand alone short story (in fact, many of them have been previously published in literary magazines) connecting through a single character or a few characters who, in the end will grow up and play major roles in each others lives.

One charming technique used by the author is to give a quick one-paragraph summary at the end of some chapters, telling what will happen to each of the characters in ten or twenty years hence. Sad to say, its not necessarily good, but it gives deep insight into what you've just read and how it affects the rest of their lives.

Music and technology are the main themes throughout, and the last few chapters, which take place in the not too distant future, seem to be a witty cautionary tale about the logical result of their side by side progression, as each new generation adds its own hilarious contribution.

This book is a keeper!
Rating: *****

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